Welcome back from your 2013 NBA All-Star weekend inebriation where some are doing better than others. In this edition of TFJO, we’re doing it “And The Answer Is” style, as I assembled a group of fantasy basketball experts and asked them life-changing questions. OK, maybe not life-changing, but at the very least important to all of us fantasy hoops heads. So, who we got?
Patrick Madden — Fantasy Basketball Coaches
Chris Morgan — Rotowire
Josh Whitling — ESPN
Chris Towers — CBS Sports
Brian Flood — formerly CBS Sports, but now a comedian
Eric McClung — KFFL
Frankie Lloyd — Baller Mind Frame
1) Who is the best non-drafted fantasy basketball player thus far?
Madden: Either Larry Sanders or Nikola Vucevic. Since Sanders missed four games heading into the break, I’ll go with Vucevic, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Orlando Magic post-Dwight Howard. The second year center was on few radar screens going into the season despite being penciled in as the team’s starting center and has surprised even his biggest fans by averaging 12.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. With Glen Davis out for the foreseeable future with a fractured foot, Vucevic is poised to have a huge second half of the season.
Morgan: Larry Sanders. When the season began, Sanders was merely the guy with the same name as the lead character from a beloved HBO comedy. Now, he’s a key piece of the Milwaukee Bucks’ rotation, and a defensive beast. While Sanders only averages 8.5 points, and his free throw shooting is poor, he’s grabbing 8.5 rebounds and, most importantly, he’s blocking a staggering 3.2 shots per game. For a guy that was available on pretty much every waiver wire when the season began, Sanders has generated a nice amount of fantasy value. Now, if only the Bucks could draft a player named Hank Kingsley.
Whitling: Honorable mention goes to Nikola Vucevic and J.J. Redick, both with an ESPN average draft position of 140+, but Chandler Parsons takes the crown with an average draft position of 149th and player rater ranking of 36. He’s built upon a surprising rookie season by improving his free throw shooting from 55.1 to 74.5 percent, while upping his contributions in points, rebounds, assists, and threes. I’m a sucker for across-the-board contributors, and Parsons doesn’t have a negative impact in any statistical area. His underlying statistics scream improvement as well, as his true shooting percentage, usage rate, player efficiency rating, accuracy and attempts at the rim have all gone up. Plus, the percentage of attempts he’s taking on two-point jumpers has decreased, meaning he’s doing the bulk of his damage at the rim or from beyond the arc, which I love in a fantasy player. This means he gives you treys without hurting your field goal percentage and of the 35 players averaging at least 1.8 triples per game, Parsons, Jose Calderon and Kevin Durant are the only three shooting over 47 percent from the floor. Parsons has yielded the biggest reward among players not drafted in most leagues.
Towers: It’s has to be Larry Sanders, right? He was undrafted on average in CBS leagues, but has been a borderline top-100 overall player in standard scoring formats. He is still only playing 25.4 minutes per game because of foul trouble, but his 5.1 fouls-per-36 minutes rate is actually a pretty big decrease over last season, when he posted 7.4 per-36. He has made the biggest jump from undrafted to must-own this season. Sanders is averaging roughly nine points and boards per game, while leading the league in blocks per game. Hard to argue with that at the center position from a guy that was freely available two weeks into the season.
Flood: J.R. Smith was an afterthought on Draft Day. He was probably drafted in deeper leagues, but late. The Knicks’ sixth man has drained 88 three-pointers in 50 games, while averaging 16.2 points, 2.8 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals. He’s also extremely fun to watch and arguably the “coolest” player in the NBA, if you’re into that sort of thing. Smith is a streaky player that is due for a few tremendous runs over the final months of the season. Plus, the New York Knicks’ fantasy playoff schedule is terrific.
McClung: Chandler Parsons was only selected in 20 percent of Yahoo! drafts and is now a top 30 to 40 player, depending on your scoring format. He’s shooting a nice percentage and dropping over 14 points a game, but the value has come by stuffing the entire stat sheet. Parsons is also getting five boards, two threes and a steal per night. Aside from LeBron James and Josh Smith, Parsons is the only forward averaging more than 3.5 assists. These kinds of all-around contributors really keep the fantasy lifeblood flowing and the addition of Parsons off waivers could prove to be a championship winning move for many.
Lloyd: Without a doubt in my mind it has to be Chandler Parsons. Just as last year, he became a hot waiver wire pick-up within the first week as I predicted prior to the season — “With McHale’s trust and the SF spot all his own now that Chase Budinger is with the Minnesota Timberwolves, look for Parsons to build on his rookie season. Chandler is going undrafted (a mistake) in most standard leagues, but expect him to be a hot waiver wire pick up early on in the season just as last year.” What’s most impressive about Parsons is that he’s worked his way as the Houston Rockets’ second offensive option behind James Harden.
2) Which drafted player is the biggest surprise? This can be a good or bad thing.
Madden: Pau Gasol. The Dwight Howard addition was cause for some concern heading into the year, but Mike D’Antoni turns every player he touches into fantasy gold, right? Right? Not in this case. Gasol went down and now he’s mercifully out.
Morgan: Damian Lillard. While Lillard was a high NBA Draft pick, coming out of a small school like Weber State did not bode well for a quick transition to the NBA. Well, the jump has not been an issue for Lillard in the least. Not only is he pretty much a lock to win Rookie of the Year, in part due to injuries and/or lack of playing time to Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond, Lillard has arguably been a top 20 fantasy player, period.
Whitling: Tim Duncan had an average draft position of 57, and currently ranks seventh on the player rater by averages. The most unheralded facet of his resurgence is the fact he’s nailing 82.4 percent of his free throws with four attempts per game, turning what has been a career weak point into a strength. On top of that, his offensive game has stretched out, as he’s shooting at least 42 percent from every spot on the court, with improved efficiency and increased attempts at the rim compared to last season. His 2.8 blocks per game are his highest since 2002-2003, and his points, rebounds, assists, steals, total rebounding rate, true shooting percentage and Player Efficiency Rating have all improved since last season. He’s missed time recently, and will likely be handled with kid gloves in the second half of the season, but he’s already earned his money after being selected in the sixth or seventh round of most drafts, and everything beyond this point is gravy. And gravy is delightful.
Towers: Greivis Vasquez. He was drafted on average as the 103rd overall player in CBS formats, with 46 guards going ahead of him on average. As of last week, he has been the eighth-highest scoring Fantasy option in the league, and has only improved as the season has gone on. It is probably fair to say that Vasquez is playing a huge role in how most league’s playoff races are shaping up. Vasquez is one of just four players averaging at least 13.8 points and 8.0 assists per game; the other three were all in Houston this past weekend — Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday and ASG MVP, Chris Paul.
Flood: James Harden was probably a second or third round selection in your league, so you expected him to be valuable. However, you had no idea that he’d be ranked in the top five of most fantasy formats at the All-Star break. Since landing in Houston, Harden has been an all-around fantasy monster and we don’t see any signs of him slowing down. 26.1 ppg, 5.7 apg, with a ton of treys, steals, and solid percentages will make him a top five selection in fantasy basketball drafts next season. If you took LeBron James or Kevin Durant in Round 1 and scored Harden in Round 2 … congrats on winning your league.
McClung: I can’t say that on draft day I would have ever believed the move from the the Memphis Grizzlies bench to the Dallas Mavericks starting lineup would have O.J. Mayo scoring 18 points a night with a career-best shooting percentage of nearly 47 percent. Mayo is doing it, however, with strong three-point shooting and 4.4 assists, besting his career average by nearly 1.5. He’s still erratic between the ears and prone to turning the ball over, but Mayo has rewarded faithful owners in spades.
Lloyd: The biggest positive surprise of the fantasy season thus far in my humble opinion has to be none other than the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bean Bryant. By now we should have learned not to doubt the man, but how can you blame us when he is ancient in terms of basketball years? At 34 years of age, Kobe is having a great season to the tune of 26.8 points, 5.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.7 triples and 1.4 steals. Even if his stellar numbers haven’t translated to more Los Angeles Lakers wins, the blame cannot be squarely placed on his shoulders alone.
3) Which player available on most waiver wires right now could have a significant post All-Star break performance?
Madden: Jeff Green. Not just because I happen to be a Boston Celtics fan, but with the Jared Sullinger injury, the Celtics frontcourt basically consists of Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Jason “6 Fouls to Give” Collins. Green’s minutes are at 30 a contest in eight February games and he’s become a consistent 15 point per game scorer with the potential to average a three, steal and block a game over the second half of the season with great percentages. Plus, as a bonus the Celtics have one of the best fantasy playoff schedules in the league.
Morgan: Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha isn’t one of the top four offensive options on his own team and admittedly only averages 7.5 points. However, while he doesn’t provide much in any category, he does provide a bit in many categories. He is a strong shooter, making just over one three-pointer per game, as well as producing a couple of rebounds, assists and steals. Sefolosha also has position flexibility, and has added value in leagues where you can only draft Swiss-born players.
Whitling: Gordon Hayward is owned in just half of most leagues due to a disappointing first half and the fact he’s missed the past 10 games with a sprained shoulder. But I have faith in his fantasy skill set and ability to provide points, threes, steals and assists with excellent blocks for a guard-eligible player. I also think he’s a better shooter than his 42.8 percent from the floor suggests as he’s strangely shooting just 26.7 percent between 3-10 feet, a mark I see improving in the second half. His points and treys are up despite playing fewer minutes than last season, and he’s a low turnover player, which adds value in nine-category leagues. Last year he averaged 14.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 threes, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks per game after the All-Star break, including 16.1 points, 3.5 assists, 1.8 treys and 0.9 steals per game in 13 April contests. The Utah Jazz roster could look markedly different after the trade deadline with one of their bigs likely traded away and Mo Williams returning sometime in March, and once the pieces fall in place, Hayward should be in a better situation to fulfill his fantasy potential.
Towers: I’ll go with Toronto Raptors rookie center Jonas Valanciunas, who has been decent overall when healthy. We know he can be so much better down the road, and the team’s makeup heading into the final few months looks like it could leave him with big minutes down the stretch. The Raptors traded Ed Davis away a few weeks ago and Valanciunas has topped the 25-minute mark in three of the last four games. Fouls and inconsistency will be issues for the 20-year-old, but with how shallow the center position is, he could emerge as a low-end starter. In 13 games with at least 25 minutes of playing time, Valanciunas is averaging 12.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. While I don’t expect him to average that down the stretch, it just goes to show the numbers he is already capable of providing when given the chance.
Flood: The truth is, unless you play with a bunch of guys that think Dwight Howard is a public relations guru, nobody on waivers at this point is winning you a championship. That said, Chauncey Billups has been added in thousands of leagues over the past week and he still might be available in yours. If you need points, triples and a solid free throw percentage grab him now.
McClung: I’ve been a big Matt Barnes guy all season and I think he’s going to heat back up soon for a couple of reasons. You’ll recall the fantasy realm was starting to embrace Barnes during an impressive December campaign that included nearly 13 points a game on 55.6 percent shooting from the floor, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 threes, 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks. However, when Chris Paul started missing games Barnes began to struggle and owners ran away in droves. Not only is Paul back, Barnes could be in line for a starting gig as Caron Butler experiences back issues. Barnes is one of the rare players that can collect a block, a steal and a three-pointer per game. Those contributions should not go wasted on the waiver wire much longer.
Lloyd: Philadelphia 76ers guard Nick Young, who refers to himself in the third person as Swaggy P. With Jason Richardson out for the season, the shooting guard spot is all Young’s for the rest of the season. If you haven’t taken notice to the numbers he’s been dropping, now is the time. Swaggy P is by far the best natural shooter on the 76ers roster, therefore he needs to be on the floor to help create space. Expect Nick to be required to play big minutes for the remainder of the season and if he is available in your league, he won’t be for long.
Thanks to my fantasy basketball colleagues above! In the next write-up of TFJO, I’ll share their top 10 rankings of the best overall, best values and busts for the first half of the season. Excelsior!
Dennis Velasco is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and can be followed on Twitter (@dv140). Feel free tweet him with your fantasy hoops questions.